Crime scene where Mary Queen of Scots' husband was murdered is laid bare centuries on

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THE scene where the second husband of Mary, Queen of Scots was murdered in one of history's most notorious unsolved crimes is to be unearthed for the first time in centuries.

• Old College, Edinburgh University. An Archaeological dig is underway in the quadrangle which is under development. Archaeologists are hoping to find remains of Lord Darnley, Mary Queen of Scots' second husband. Picture: Jayne Emsley

Archaeologists carrying out excavations on the 16th century site in Edinburgh where Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, was killed expect to uncover the crime scene within the next few weeks.

The house where Darnley had been lodging, about half a mile from his wife at Holyrood Palace, was associated with the Collegiate Church of St Mary - commonly known as the Kirk O' Field.

• The mystery of Lord Darnley's murder

The remains of the buildings have been buried beneath Old College, part of Edinburgh University, for more than 200 years.

The University of Edinburgh was granted the site in 1583 and work on the present-day Old College began in 1789.

But now, ahead of refurbishment work on the Old College quadrangle, archaeologists have been given a rare opportunity to excavate the site.

Key finds associated with the Kirk O' Field site, including several bodies which had been interred in the graveyard, have already been uncovered.

Other discoveries include the remains of Hamilton House, a mansion built in 1552 for the Duke of Chatelherault, remnants of the first University library, dating from 1617, and parts of the early college courtyards.

Among the many artefacts uncovered are fragments of glass and pottery, as well as pins and buttons.

John Lawson, curator of archaeology at City of Edinburgh Council, who has taken part in the excavation of the area, said: "One of the areas that we will be looking at is the corner of the building that Darnley lived in. But the area was landscaped severely with the building of the Adam and Playfair buildings during the 19th century."

Mr Lawson said while it was unlikely that much evidence pertaining to Darnley's murder would be found, any information they picked up about it would be "icing on the cake" of what has already been a very fruitful dig.

"What we are finding are the remnants of a series of university buildings on the north side of the quadrant.

"It had been thought that the only surviving evidence of these was pictorial."

He added that the dig was also throwing up evidence about the city's medieval past and the buildings that once stood on the site.

Councillor Deidre Brock, culture and leisure convenor for the city council, said: "This excavation — which could unearth the very building at Kirk O' Fields where Lord Darnley met his grisly end — offers a tantalising hint of just how much of Edinburgh's fascinating past still lies buried beneath the city."

The dig is being carried out prior to a 1 million landscaping of the Old College quadrangle, which is being funded by a private donor.

The landscaping is one of several key improvement projects taking place as part of a major five-year fund-raising initiative, the 350m University of Edinburgh Campaign.

The landscaping will fulfil the vision of architect William Henry Playfair, who completed the Old College, originally designed by Robert Adam.

University of Edinburgh vice-principal Mary Bownes said: "What is being revealed is far more than we hoped for, with extensive parts of Hamilton House and other historic sites emerging from the clay and mud."